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article imageOp-Ed: Australia — Battle for PM’s job on Monday as Gillard calls spill

By Paul Wallis     Feb 22, 2012 in Politics
Sydney - What started as a muttering in Canberra has now become a fully-fledged leadership battle. After months of sniping, the Rudd vs. Gillard leadership challenge will happen on Monday. The unusually vicious public attacks on Rudd may be one of the reasons.
This leadership fight is a battle of positions and personalities, as much as any simple power politics confrontation. The left/right factional traditions in the Australian Labor Party aren’t the primary drivers, for a change. This is a turf war, and it’s been getting nasty.
Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are two of Australia’s most experienced, least blue-sky politicians. Gillard ousted Rudd in a leadership coup prior to the last election. Rudd resigned as Foreign Minister, stating he no longer has Gillard’s confidence, and is returning to Australia from Washington.
The contrast between the two leaders is stark. Rudd is extremely popular in his own right, where Gillard has the highly respectable achievements of getting two “impossible” pieces of major legislation, the mining tax and the carbon tax, through a hung Parliament. Rudd is certainly seen as a leader where Gillard is known as a very effective numbers person with a deserved reputation for getting difficult things done.
The ALP, however, hasn’t been doing either of them any favours with the extraordinarily bitter media war waged against Rudd. The party looks dysfunctional, internally chaotic, and above all like a backstabbing convention. This is an image of the ALP which isn’t going down well with the electorate. Labor voters have a reputation of disliking squalid party fights, particularly on this bitchy, snitchy level.
The leak of a video of Rudd swearing over a brief, for example, was viewed as merely pathetic. Swearing is not unknown in Australia- It’s really a matter of what you’re swearing about, and in this case Rudd seems to have had due cause. More insulting, however, was the apparent belief that the public wouldn’t see the two possible reasons for leaking the video.
The video was actually superfluous, compared to senior Labor figures’ commentary on Rudd. Even ministers engaged in a Rudd-bashing exercise, and the sting is obvious. These are people Rudd has known and worked with for decades. Treasurer Wayne Swan described Rudd as “deeply flawed”. Regional Minister Crean said Rudd “wasn’t a team player”.
Kevin Rudd  Ex-Prime Minister of Australia
Kevin Rudd, Ex-Prime Minister of Australia
File photo
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Rudd responding to the attacks:
"I have been shocked and disappointed by the tone and content of the intensely personal attacks lodged at me overnight.
"I don't believe these sorts of vicious personal attacks have a place in national affairs.
"I'd urge my own supporters not to retaliate and engage in these sorts of vicious attacks. I don't believe they have a place in Australian politics."
Voters would agree.
Gillard supporters say Rudd would be “crushed” in a spill. Rudd supporters say he has most of the numbers (40/52) and has a realistic chance of winning. Gillard, however, has again demonstrated her expertise with numbers, bringing forward and setting up a spill with minimum time for preparation. This is a professional political tactic- Take the initiative, force the opponent to follow your lead on your terms.
Julia Gillard should not be underestimated as a politician, or as a tactician. She’s taken solid personal attacks since the formation of the minority government, and taken them well. (Some of the attacks included infantile name-calling, like “Juliar”- not the finest hour for political copywriters, either.) She went from abysmally low personal popularity ratings to overtake the leader of the Opposition, and the ALP, which also went down the tubes in the polls, has revived.
Kevin Rudd is no political babe in the woods, either. He and his supporters wouldn’t try a challenge without at least some belief they can win against savage, entrenched opposition. Rudd won a massive election victory in 2007. Labor’s dire scraping win in the election after the leadership change was largely attributed to a dislike of both Labor voters and the Australian electorate as a whole for Labor vs. Labor politics and leadership squabbles in general. Rudd, as a leader, is and was credible, and nobody saw any working reason for a leadership change but media polls showing the government losing popularity. Labor was perceived as panicking in its reaction.
What’s worrying everyone, however, is that the Labor Party is basically having a fistfight in the media. There are other ways to settle political disputes inside a party, and many are appalled that Labor has not only hung out its dirty laundry, but is publicizing each stain on it. This really isn’t top order political risk management, and everybody knows it. The inference is that Labor can’t settle its own inner battles and has reached an impasse.
There’s a lose-lose scenario here, too. Gillard has never been the “token woman” in Cabinet. Rudd originally appointed her as deputy PM, and it wasn’t for cosmetic reasons. She’s proven herself in a very difficult political environment. Rudd himself has major strengths, particularly in his dealings with foreign governments, extremely important for Australian trade. Winning one means losing the other. Political talent isn’t all that common, on these levels.
The ALP should recognize that it will have a tough enough job winning the next election. The Senate is socked in and probably will be after the next election. There are no easy tasks ahead, and making things more difficult is an own goal. Convincing the electorate that the ALP has got over its hissy fits and is prepared to condescend to get down to business is the only show in town. The sooner the party gets on with that, the better.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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